“Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:13-17)
John the Baptist was not your normal preacher. Instead of clothes, he wore camel skins. Instead of bread, he ate locusts dipped in honey. Instead of a synagogue or church, he preached out in the fields and by the river. He did not care about outward appearances. He did not try to become popular or liked; instead, he was focused on one thing: the Messiah coming to take away the sins of the world. Imagine his excitement when one day, the Messiah showed up to be baptized by him.
We normally define baptism as “an outward showing of an inward change.” In baptism, we are showing the world that our lives have been changed by the death and resurrection of Jesus. Just as Christ died and rose again, our sinful self has died and we have been given new life in Jesus. We recognize that we have sinned against God, and we have decided to trust in Christ to save us from our sin. Repentance has occurred in our hearts, meaning that we have changed our mind about sin. We no longer want to follow after sinful things because we want to follow Christ. Baptism demonstrates this repentance, this change in our lives.
So why did Jesus do this? We know that Jesus did not sin. His actions were always perfect, and no evil thought of pride or lust ever seeped into His pure mind. If baptism is about repentance, why did Jesus need to be baptized?
The first reason that Jesus allowed John to baptize Him was to show that He was the Messiah. In the apostle John’s account of this event, we read that John the Baptist was told by God that a dove would descend on the Messiah of Israel. When John sees this happen to Jesus, he proclaims to all who were standing there, “Behold the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” By being baptized in the Jordan river, Jesus was signaling to the world that the Messiah has come, and He would save them from their sins and bring them into the true promised land of Heaven.
Secondly, Jesus was baptized to identify himself with us and point to the cross. As we’ve already said, baptism is a symbol of repentance. When someone is baptized, the water washes over his or her sinful body, and it symbolizes sins being washed away. When Jesus was baptized, it symbolized him being covered by the water that our sins were washed away in. It was a metaphor for Him taking our sin upon Himself. When we are baptized, it points back to the cross, but when Jesus was baptized it pointed forward to it.
At Christ’s baptism, we see the beginning of His journey as the Hero that would defeat the greatest enemies of mankind and bring us into the promised land of fellowship with Him.